Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven was always going to face significant challenges. Remaking not one but two classics, it also has to buck the trend of recent big budget westerns that have badly flopped. Nevertheless, the Training Day director has some impressive hired guns.
Denzel Washington takes the lead as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter talked into helping a small town under threat from a violent businessman (Peter Sarsgaard) with eyes on its gold. He assembles six other sharp shooters to help him (including Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee and Vincent D’Onofrio), and hastily prepares the town for the showdown of their lives.
There are many things to like about this new take, but little to love. The Magnificent Seven mimics the techniques of classic westerns, but does so without the soul that made those films timeless. So we have plenty of hero shots, a rousing score (the last composed by the late James Horner), and plenty of action. It all feels superficial however, an empty experience that never goes deeper than the visceral thrill of on-screen death and stylised violence.
Westerns are all about presence, and while Washington’s Chisolm has it in abundance, the same can’t be said for Sarsgaard, who plays a hackneyed and cowardly villain with a distinct lack of menace. Pratt’s cocky gambler and Hawke’s haunted veteran try but ultimately fail to pick up some of the slack.
An epic final showdown proves that it’s not action, but gravity that’s missing here. The Magnificent Seven makes all the right noises, but misses its target.